Staff Report

Entering this week, the South Jersey South Shore Baseball League — a league made up of top high school and college talent with teams throughout Atlantic and Cape May counties — had played 1/3 of its regular-season schedule.

Two things have become apparent so far: One, the South Jersey Surf, last year’s league champion in the inaugural season, are rising to the top again. And two, there are plenty of teams who still have a shot at a spot in the top four of the standings and thus home-field advantage once the playoffs start.

(A quick note about the playoffs: after the 21-game regular season, the No. 11 team in the standings is eliminated, and Nos. 7-10 “play-in” to the playoffs, much like in the NBA. No. 7 plays No. 10 and No. 8 plays No. 9 in one-game elimination, with the winners earning the Nos. 7 and 8 spots in the playoffs. From there, No. 1 plays No. 8, No. 2 vs. No. 7, etc., in best-of-3 series. The semifinals are best-of-3, then the Championship Series is best-of-5.)

Heading into tonight’s action, the Surf, coached by former profession player and current Atlantic Cape Community College assistant Jeff Ball, have jumped out to a 6-1 record to take over first place in the standings. This was thanks in large part to a 4-0 week last week that included wins over Hammonton, Somers Point, Buena and Absecon. The offense was rolling early in the week as the Surf combined to score 16 runs in a 6-1 win over Hammonton and a 10-3 triumph over Somers Point. The Surf collected 17 hits vs. Hammonton and got a pair of home runs, from Eric Fitzgerald and former EHT High star Dave Appolonia, in the victory over Somers Point.

Last Wednesday, the Surf got a complete-game effort with 11 strikeouts from another former EHT standout, Kyle Transue, and Monny Strickland (also an EHT High alum) homered to lead the Surf past Buena, 3-2. On Friday, the Surf closed out the week with a 6-3 win over Absecon and got another complete-game win, this one from former Mainland star Nick Atohi. Sam Daggers (Absegami) homered and Jimmy Pasquale (Holy Spirit) went 3-for-3.

The Ocean City Water Dogs are hot on the heels of the Surf, entering this week’s action with a 5-2 record. They’ve won two straight since a loss against the Surf, beating Somers Point 10-5 and the EHT Eagles 11-1. Ocean City has scored nine or more runs in four of their first seven games. Checking into third place are the Northfield Cardinals (6-3), a half-game ahead of Absecon (5-3).

The Cardinals have won four of their last five games, including a string of three straight shutouts, beating Egg Harbor City 7-0, Buena 6-0 and Absecon 8-0 before a 1-0 loss against the Ventnor Bay Sox. Northfield, however, rebounded with a 10-8 win over the Galloway Mustangs. Cole Campbell (Mainland) went 3-for-3 with two runs scored while Julian Costa was 2-for-4 with a run and two RBIs.

There are a bunch of teams in the middle of the pack trying to work their way into the top four, including the Egg Harbor Township Eagles, who started out 5-1 but have slipped to 5-4, Buena (4-3) and the Hammonton Hot Shots (3-4) — one of the perennial powers in the former Atlantic County Baseball League.

LEAGUE STANDINGS: 1. South Jersey Surf (6-1). 2. Ocean City Water Dogs (5-2). 3. Northfield Cardinals (6-3). 4. Absecon Outlaws (5-3). 5. Buena Blue Dawgs (4-3). 6. Egg Harbor Township Eagles (5-4). 7. Hammonton Hot Shots (3-4). 8. Ventnor Bay Sox (3-5). 9. Egg Harbor City Knights (2-4). 10. Galloway Mustangs (1-4). 11. Somers Point Captains (0—7).

GAMES TO WATCH: There’s a huge game tonight in Northfield as the Surf host the Cardinals at 7 p.m. at Birch Grove Park. The Cardinals can inch closer to first place with a win, while the Surf can extend their league lead with a victory. There’s also a bit of a rivalry game tonight as Buena travels to Hammonton to take on the Hot Shots at Hammonton Lake Park.

On Tuesday night, Ocean City travels to Ventnor to face a Bay Sox team that plays well at home and can definitely hit the ball with guys like former Pleasantville High standouts Sleiter Suriel (.318, 2 HR) and Alejandro Rosado (.391, 6 RBIs). On Wednesday, Ocean City visits the Surf in a battle of the top two teams in the standings, and on Thursday Egg Harbor City visits Absecon, as the Outlaws look to stay hot.

For more on the South Jersey South Shore Baseball League, visit the website at southjerseyssbl.com or follow the league on Twitter @SJSSBL.